Professor of Harvard Law School
Bill Alford is an accomplished scholar, a trusted advisor, and an effective organizer. To me, however, what stands out most about Bill is his dedication to other people’s wellbeing. It will always inspire me even though I fear I will never come close to matching it.
Some of Bill’s extraordinary commitment to other human beings is readily apparent from the list of important positions he has held and still continues to hold. Bill is a leading figure in the Special Olympics and the founder of HLS’s Project on Disability. Over the last decade and a half, he also dedicated much of his scholarship to legal issues surrounding disability.
Less obvious is Bill’s dedication to other humans’ wellbeing behind the scenes. I was privileged to observe first-hand Bill’s leadership of the Graduate Program, first as a student (2004-2009) and then as a faculty member on the Graduate Committee (2011-2019). Bill is incredibly committed to his students, his staff, and his colleagues. Starting with the last, least important group, Bill never, ever got aggressive or even pushy with us other committee members. His patience appears infinite. Bill was also unfailingly kind to his amazing staff and always made a point of expressing his gratitude for their work. Most importantly, Bill was a tireless advocate for “his” students—the LL.Ms, S.JDs, and visiting students both inside and outside our Committee. Bill knew all the students, attended every official student event from beginning to end, and spent countless hours every year meeting with students who wanted or required special attention. As a student, I noticed some of this, but I came to grasp the full, extraordinary extent of his commitment only when I joined the Committee.
Bill’s engagement with China is of a piece with the character. Bill knows China like few others. His East Asian Legal Studies Program has been bringing extraordinary Chinese lawyers to Cambridge for decades. Some of those lawyers are supportive, others very much critical of their respective home governments. Bill has endured criticism from both sides. This much is well known. Only those who know him personally, however, know why Bill puts up with the stress of running such a program. It is neither money, nor academic fame, nor any government’s interest nor, at this point in his life, intellectual curiosity. It is his dedication to helping people, in this case the Chinese people.
Bill has completed his extraordinary two decades of service as Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies at Harvard Law School. We are fortunate that he is staying on as a Special Advisor. We are more fortunate that we have had, and will always have, his shining example to aspire to.